Starting his business journey at 14 selling hats and shoes to running an empire
JOHANNESBURG - Driven businessman Frank Ngwenya is penning a book chronicling his foray into the treacherous world of entrepreneurship spanning decades.
Ngwenya is managing director of Fradu Group which he co-founded with his wife Duduzile in 2007 following their stint abroad.
Ngwenya, who is originally from Johannesburg but is based in the Friendly City of Port Elizabeth, says the firm is a group of companies focussed on restaurants and property development.
Socio-economic circumstances forced Ngwenya to venture into entrepreneurship at the age of 14, selling hats and shoes in the Johannesburg CBD, in order to support his family.
At the age of 16 he landed a job as a dishwasher at a Dros restaurant in Fourways. In 2001 he subsequently lost the job because he was very slow in executing his duties. A few months later he got another job at a restaurant in Randburg, starting off as a trainee waiter.
Ngwenya, who also worked at a plastic bottle factory in Fordsburg, was determined not to fail this time around that he son caught the attention of a regular customer who was impressed with his work ethic.
“He told that he was from Britain. That guy did not want to be served by any other waiters,” recalls Ngwenya, adding that he would receive calls on his day-offs from the customer asking his whereabouts.
“He told me that with my skills I could do well in the UK and that he’d connect me with his friend who ran a cool B&B in Ipswich. I thought he was joking.”
Ngwenya says it took him two months to raise money for air tickets to the UK. “I got a letter of appointment from the UK guys and all my working visa requirements were met,” says Ngwenya.
However, he says living and working as a chef in Ipswich became too much for him.
“I was so lonely. It was all about working and sleeping for me. I was on the phone everyday talking to my people back home,” he recalls.
He stress that Ipswich, which is set on the River Orwell in Suffolk, is a very cold place. Even for former Zimbabwe’s long-time erstwhile dictator, Robert Mugabe, who once ranted: “The United Kingdom is a very cold, uninhabitable country with small houses.”
Besides the icy cold weather conditions, Ngwenya says Ipswich is in a far-flung remote county in eastern England.
“I wanted to go to a bigger city like Manchester and London.” His wishes were realised after nine months of working at the B&B when he landed a chef job at Wetherspoon, a pub company with about 900 outlets across the UK.
Ngwenya was promoted to supervisor and was responsible for staff training across Liverpool, Manchester and Leicester and wherever the company was opening new outlets.
He worked for the company from 2002 to 2005 and saved enough money to realise his long held dream of running his own businesses back home in South Africa.
“While I was still there in the UK I bought bank repossessed properties via Absa Bank. I bought three in Nelspruit, one in Bhisho and an apartment block in Berea in Jo’burg,” says Ngwenya, who met his wife Duduzile during a church conference in London, where she was also working at the time.
“I fell in love with her. I proposed to her and managed to convince her to resign from her company and go back home with me. I had enough money that I had saved, I told her we were going to live large.”
They returned to South Africa in 2006 and got hitched a year later. However, some of the repossessed properties he had bought were subsequently repossessed by the bank due to a lack of experience in running them, he admits.
The couple then opened a kitchen at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research’s offices in Summerstrand, PE, and later a restaurant at The Grove Mall in Pretoria.
However, in 2011, the couple upped and left for Dallas, Texas, in the US, returning to the country four years later.
“I wanted to live in a place where I could focus on my Christian ministry and do some biblical studies,” says Ngwenya, who currently runs two Fradu Restaurants in East London. Fradu is named after Frank and Duduzile.
He says they are already franchising the business and that another outlet will be opened in a new mall launching in March in QwaQwa.
“Besides that I also buy land and develop it into residential complexes. There is an apartment block I’m busy developing in Kamma Heights in PE, it’s 90 percent complete and already sold out.”
The businessman says they also do shopfitting and their clients include Capitec Bank and SBV, among others.
Ngwenya’s failed enterprises include a trucking business that did not take off in Mozambique. “I have lost almost R3 million on failed businesses alone,” he says.
“I have learnt that success can also make you lose money. I hope that my book, which is titled Anointed for Entrepreneurship, will empower other entrepreneurs out there.”
- BUSINESS REPORT